Tag Archives: History

Hoffa Murder Suspect Tony Pro’s Union Hall

On July 30, 1975, James R. Hoffa, President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, disappeared without a trace. In 1982, he was declared dead. No body has ever been found.

A prime suspect in that disappearance was Teamsters Local 560 President Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano. In fact, Hoffa was actually on the way to meet Tony Pro when he disappeared.

Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano

A member of the Genovese crime family, Tony Pro ruled Local 560 with an iron fist. Anyone who opposed him had a way of winding up dead.

Tony Pro’s union hall

Hoffa and Provenzano’s beef seems to date from prison. Whether Tony Pro had other reasons for wanting Hoffa dead isn’t known.

Today, I went in search of the remains of this history. Tony Pro’s Local 560 Union Hall is in Union City, NJ, a town that was once heavily Italian but is now mostly Hispanic. Though it has changed since Tony Pro’s day, its working class roots are very much intact. Nearby are Tonnelle Avenue and the Lincoln Tunnel, where many of Local 560’s members drive their trucks every day.

Looking at the door to the union hall, I imagined a small, bespectacled man leaving at the end of the day with a sheaf of papers. Who would think he had the power that he did?

Tony Pro’s habit of disappearing anyone who got in his way eventually caught up with him when he had the local’s treasurer, Anthony Castellito, murdered at his country home in the Catskills. Like Hoffa’s, his body was never found. But years later, an informant tipped the FBI to Tony Pro’s involvement, and Tony went to federal prison, where he died in 1988 of heart failure.

More on the mafia in New Jersey:

THE MAFIA’S HOBOKEN FORTRESS

BADA BING’S REAL-LIFE MOB CONNECTIONS

A NOTORIOUS MOB INFORMANT’S HOBOKEN HEADQUARTERS

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A Hidden Castle…In New Jersey?

As you round a clear blue lake, a second, smaller path winds away from the main trail. Up this path, on a peak covered with flowers, lie the remains of a vast stone edifice.

This is Van Slyke Castle in Ramapo State Forest in Oakland, NJ, just 30 miles from midtown Manhattan. I visited with a friend last week and was mesmerized by the spooky ruins and the beautiful natural setting.

Van Slyke Castle was built by a wealthy stockbroker named William Porter at the beginning of the 20th century. After his death in a car crash, his widow Ruth married attorney Warren Van Slyke, who lent his name to the manse.

After Ruth’s death, the castle fell into disrepair, and burned down in 1959:

Ruth died in 1940, leaving the castle without an owner for nine years. It was finally purchased in 1949 by a couple who subsequently resold the property two years later to Suzanne S. Christie. She abandoned it shortly after. No one knows why she left the place, though it’s suspected it could have been the result of a bitter divorce.

After years of desertion, the mansion met its fiery demise when vandals broke in and set the place ablaze.

More on the history of the castle here.

The stone ruins are expansive. Though the structure is overgrown, the pipes are still visible and behind the house is the remains of a large swimming pool.

Beautiful flowers are everywhere. Perhaps Ruth Van Slyke planted them? From the peak, you can see the New York City skyline in silhouette in the distance, a marked contrast to the woodsy surroundings.

My friend and I lied on a rock near the castle and enjoyed the sun, flowers, and beautiful lake view. As we descended, I reflected on how amazing it is that inside this beautiful woods was a grand castle we could’ve easily missed.

If you haven’t been to Ramapo State Forest, I strongly recommend it! The scenery is beautiful and the hiking is easy. Add great views and the odd chipmunk, and it’s hard to beat!

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors in New Jersey:

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Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Urban Combat: Lessons from Chechnya

At its widest point, Russia spans nearly 5,000 miles from the Vistula Spit in the west to the Kuril Islands in the east. In 1994, its military numbered 1.4 million. It had a massive air force and heavily armed infantry, along with the latest technologies like guided missiles.

Chechnya is a small, impoverished region about the size of Connecticut. It has been inhabited for over 40,000 years and been a part of many empires, from Persian to Russian to Soviet.

In 1991, Chechnya declared independence from Russia. Reports of mistreatment of the Russian minority inflamed tensions with Russia, and Russia began to bomb the tiny breakaway republic on December 1st, 1994. (This same casus belli was used by Putin against Ukraine.)

For 12 years over two separate wars, this tiny country held off the Russian colossus. How did they do it? As former Navy SEAL Commander Jocko Willink details in his excellent podcast, superior leadership and infantry tactics outweighed Russia’s seeming advantages.

Russian soldiers encountered unexpectedly heavy resistance as the fighting moved to Grozny, the capital. The Russian soldiers had major air power behind them, while the Chechen air force had been quickly destroyed at the beginning of the war.

But the Chechens neutralized Russia’s key advantage with a simple tactic: move closer. The air force couldn’t bomb the Chechens without bombing their own comrades as well. They bombed away anyhow, and many Russian soldiers died of friendly fire.

Their air superiority neutralized, the Russian military’s shortcomings in more basic areas became evident. They didn’t have ladders to get into buildings, an essential urban combat tool. Their leaders micromanaged and worked at cross purposes.

Chechens terrorized the Russians whenever they could. They put the heads of Russian soldiers on pikes for the survivors to see. Booby traps were everywhere (an echo of America’s experience in Vietnam and Iraq). Many Russian soldiers began to suffer mentally, and either became unable to fight or indiscriminate in their aggression, attacking civilians and driving the population to the insurgents.

Maybe it all started when the Russian soldiers stopped shaving. This was the first breakdown in discipline. It was small, but noticeable. Later, soldiers stopped following rules about boiling drinking water, leading to massive outbreaks of illness.

Eventually, Russian food supplies fell short. These tired soldiers, many of them teenagers, faced illness and hunger. The attacks from the Chechen rebels, many seasoned veterans of the USSR’s war against Afghanistan, were relentless.

Facing a grim situation in Chechnya and declining support for the war at home, Russia declared a ceasefire in 1996 and soon signed a peace treaty. Chechnya would ultimately fall after a second, and much longer, war. But this band of ill equipped rebels held off Russia for years, an incredible feat.

What did the Russian military learn from this, and what are the lessons for us? Here are a few key points:

  • Don’t count on airpower. Determined infantry wins wars.
  • Maintain discipline, even in small things.
  • Urban warfare is manpower intensive with high attrition. Be sure to have fresh troops available and an extensive mental health staff to deal with the psychological stresses of urban combat.
  • Get the civilian population on your side. Don’t hurt them. Respect their leaders and give your orders through them.

This is a fascinating history lesson that can inform US policy and even our daily lives. Where are we letting our own discipline slip?

Dig into these posts for more on history and the military:

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Photo: “Chechnya/Чече́нская” by LOreBoNoSi is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Tiny Village That Beat the Great Depression

Nestled in the Austrian Alps is the tiny village of Worgl. In 1932, as the world economy was in the depths of the Great Depression, Worgl too had fallen on hard times:

The Great Depression was in full swing and of its population of nearly 5000, a third were jobless, and about 200 families were bankrupt. The situation was desperate. The town would try anything.

What followed was one of the most radical economic experiments in history. The town created a new form of money. It was a lot like the standard Austrian schilling it replaced, except its value dropped by 1% every month. In a year, you’d have just 88.64 left of every 100 schillings.

This gave residents a strong incentive to stop hoarding currency, a natural reaction to a scary economic climate:

The speed that money changed hands (14 times higher than the national schilling) helped keep local businesses afloat and, in time, brought back the town’s lost jobs.

Soon, the town went from 1/3 jobless to full employment. Tax revenues boomed as people paid their bills in the new currency before it lost its value.

Worgl’s success attracted attention from its neighbors:

Things looked up for Worgl and [Mayor] Unterguggenberger. The town did so well that six neighbouring villages successfully copied the system and over 200 grew an interest in following suit.

Ultimately, the central bank shut down this experiment in a local currency. Shortly thereafter, unemployment shot right back up to where it was before Worgl’s mayor made this bold move to save his town.

It makes sense that Worgl would’ve rocketed ahead of nearby villages. Worgl essentially had (very) negative interest rates and a far more accomodative monetary policy than its neighbors.

Today too, lowering interest rates, even below zero, is a commonly used tactic to stimulate economic activity. The US Federal Reserve lowered interest rates substantially at the beginning of the COVID crisis, and Japan and much of Europe has had negative rates for years.

But despite the success of Worgl, the results of negative rates today are mixed. Negative rates might encourage consumers to spend, but they could also discourage banks from lending. After all, who wants to lend when you might have to pay for the privilege!

Worgl remains an interesting footnote to monetary policy. Whatever the applications to today may be, I applaud the bravery of those villagers who took a radical step to try to save their home.

For more on markets and the economy, check out these posts:

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Photo: “File:Pfarrkirche Woergl Osten.jpg” by Thom16 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

When the Suez Canal Was Blocked for Eight Years

As the Suez Canal, chokepoint for 15% of world shipping, was cleared today, I thought of another time it was blocked. Not for a week, but for 8 years.

Following the Six Day War in 1967 between Egypt and Israel, Egypt blocked the canal to prevent Israel from using it. They placed old ships, debris, and even explosives in the canal. And it stayed that way, for eight years.

Thousands of workers rotated on and off the ships over the years to protect these valuable pieces of equipment. They organized joint social events and even created their own postage stamps, which have since become hot items for collectors.

The closure also had a serious effect on world trade, especially for countries that relied heavily on the canal. Seventy-nine country pairs saw the effective distance between them increase by 50% or more:

For these pairs, the closure caused an average fall in trade of over 20% with a three to four year adjustment period. Trade between these pairs recovered completely after the canal reopened eight years later with a similar adjustment period.

By the time the canal reopened, most of the ships in the Yellow Fleet could no longer make the trip:

The canal had remained closed so long that most of the Yellow Fleet ships had decayed and needed to be towed. But two of them—the German ships Münsterland and Nordwind—made it out on their own steam.

We had the benefit of peace this time, so the canal could be unblocked quickly. These episodes really emphasized to me the importance of peace and the free flow of goods to our prosperity.

For more on current events and the world economy, check out these posts:

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Photo: “File:Israeli Tanks Cross the Suez Canal – Flickr – Israel Defense Forces.jpg” by Israel Defense Forces is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0